Emil Armin Biography

Emil Armin





Emil Armin was born to a pious Jewish family in Radautz, Romania on April 1, 1883. His grandfather was a Jewish scribe, copying sacred scrolls. Armin began drawing at the age of five and presumably learned woodcarving from his father who was an amateur artist. Armin was orphaned when he was ten years old and thereafter raised by siblings. By age thirteen, he was working at restaurants and drawing when he had time, and at the age of fifteen he moved to Czernowitz, where he worked in a restaurant and took art classes at night. Armin studied English and French, and old master paintings in museums.

In 1905, he joined his brother in Chicago and supported himself by working in his cousin’s store. Armin enrolled in night classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1907 but financial difficulties forced him to stop his studies in 1911. He re-entered the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1916 and studied with George Bellows who came to the school as a visiting teacher in 1919. Following his graduation in 1920, Armin became an active member in the modernist art community, joining the 57th Street Art Colony in Hyde Park and exhibiting with the Chicago Society of Artists.

Armin visited the 1913 Armory in New York show multiple times, and was puzzled by the conflict between his academic training and the avant-garde artists emerging on the American scene. An exhibition by Russian artist Boris Anisfeld at the Art Institute resolved this conflict. Armin developed as a painter of scenes of Jewish figures in the vein of peasant pictures of saints. He also made many images depicting urban life in Chicago and images celebrating Jewish ritual and biblical themes.

Between 1922 and 1949 he exhibited his works at the Art Institute of Chicago annuals and joined the No-Jury Society, an organization founded in 1922, to challenge the Institute’s authority. Armin eventually served as president of the society, exhibiting in all of their shows. He taught at Chicago’s Hull House in 1925–26, making cartoons and woodblock prints, influenced perhaps by German Expressionism.

During the Depression, Armin participated in the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), and in the easel section of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In the mid-1930s he remain active in the 57th Street Art Colony some of whose members painted at the Indiana Dunes. Armin, along with other local Jewish artists, formed the American Jewish Art Club in 1940 and he continued to exhibit with them until his death. His work was also included in exhibitions at the Renaissance Society in Chicago in 1931, 1941, 1946, and 1962.

In 1945, Armin married Hilda Rose Diamond, a social worker for the Jewish Family and Community Service in Chicago. In the years following Armin’s death in July of 1971, Hilda worked with the Illinois State Museum to chronicle her husband’s career as an artist, resulting in an exhibition in 1980 that included 72 of his works.

One critic, Samuel Putnam, described Armin as “perhaps the most finely sensitized artist in Chicago . . . with the soul of a peasant and the mind of a philosopher.”


Emil Armin Papers, Art Institute of Chicago: http://digital-libraries.saic.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/findingaids/id/13086/rec/31